Readers' Guide to Education

An introduction to some publications that have shaped the field of education.



Teacher as Stranger:
Educational Philosophy
for the Modern Age

by Maxine Greene (1917–2014)
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1973.


Maxine Greene, 2008

Doing philosophy with Maxine Greene “could be––had to be––both exhausting and exhilarating. Keeping up was the first challenge: she is a person on whom nothing is lost, an intensely observant person, vigorous as well as open in pursuing what is there to be seen. She sees largely what narrower minds miss, and sees particularity in vivid, nuanced detail” (Ayers, 1996, p. 120). Maxine Greene has given the field of education many powerful phrases and publications–– Landscapes of Learning (1978); Releasing the Imagination (1995); “creating possibilities”; “towards wide-awakeness”; The Dialectic of Freedom (1988); and, one of our favorites, The Public School and the Private Vision (1965). For our exhibition, however, we highlight Teacher as Stranger––a work that, while not overlooked, must be considered a somewhat rare and, alas, unread work within the Greene literature.


Historic video footage of
Maxine Greene:

Video from 1978

Video from 1998

Comments from the Maxine Greene Memorial Celebration
October 6, 2014; Teachers College

Photo credit: Heather Van Uxem Lewis
Teachers College, Columbia University

Reflections on
Teacher as Stranger by Maxine Greene
reprinted from the Museum of Education's Books of the Century Catalog

When the Education Editor of Wadsworth Publishers came to my Teachers College office early in the 1970s and proposed that I write a textbook in philosophy of education, I was incredulous. It was still the day of the analytic philosophers; and I was still coping with the lack of sympathy for what was called “continental philosophy,” meaning existentialism and phenomenology. Along with John Dewey’s experimentalism, those two orientations were making considerable sense to me. Much as I admired John Dewey’s work, I kept thinking that it somehow avoided the dark dimensions of the human condition, that it did not touch upon our mortality, that it somehow lacked a tragic sense of life. Much of this, I realize, derived from my engagement with imaginative literature, my fascination with novels and poetry. They had opened doors for me in my growing up; they had moved me to articulate some of my own perceptions and feelings; they had enabled me to question the taken for granted elements in bourgeois life (my family’s life). I wanted to “do” philosophy in a context of perhaps unanswerable questions, what Isaiah Berlin once called “queer questions,” those insoluble by either logic or empirical method working together or alone. Yes, I wanted a philosophy that began in wonder, as William James said; I wanted a philosophy that allowed a perspective like mine to be granted integrity. I certainly was not sure about it, but I am pretty sure I had in mind a woman’s perspective, an ordinary woman’s perspective, the vantage point of someone who felt herself to be marginal (at home, in an Episcopal private school) but who noticed more than the successful, beautiful, well-adjusted people could see. I remember being terribly moved by, for example, Thomas Mann’s story “Tonio Kruger,” about a literary artist who yearns after the blond and blue-eyed and is forever paired with dark young girls who “fall down in the dance.” Hostile as he is to the world of commerce (his father’s world), he nonetheless has a “bliss of the commonplace,” and he keeps protesting that (artist as he is) he was not brought up “in a little green wagon,” nor was his family. Now, having thought about feminism in ways I never stumbled on to in the 1970s, I wish I had found a story in which the Tonio figure could have been a woman; but I knew very little woman’s literature, except (say) the works of Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, and a few women poets. Not having thought about feminist points of view at that time, I did not identify such writers with any particular perspective. They were modern writers, that was all, some of them absorbed by the familiar tradition or the canon, some left by the wayside. I say all this because I am now sure that Teacher as Stranger was written in considerable uncertainty, out of a very incomplete search for a personal and professional identity.


Maxine Greene, University of South Carolina, 1998


It seems to me now, however, that the impact of the sixties was strong: the civil rights movement, the anti-war protests, local educational struggles all struck me as philosophically challenging as they were politically important. I marched very often, worked anonymously and locally for better schools, for humane bussing, and the like. There were moments of unprecedented freedom, other moments of significant membership in new communities. I wanted to introduce some of what I was learning into philosophical discourse and, yes, into the schools. When I look back and find the book beginning with the film, Easy Rider, and its evocation of books about the American quest, of later “road” stories, of a looming darkness (linked, even then, to drugs and violence), I see the book somewhat “other” than when I wrote it. I was making an effort to be “marginal” and to make as clear as I could my own perspective. I am pleased retrospectively that I prefaced the text with some words about my own way of seeing and feeling: coming from the city, reading The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books and The Nation. I do not think I was flaunting my urban sophistication. I tried to make clear the limitations of such a vision (unacquainted with some of the rituals and practices that, for so many people, define “America”) and my realization of the gulf between me and some of my readers.

I realize now that that gives rise to a number of philosophical problems which I did use (sometimes anecdotally) in my book. Certain instances of moral tension were derived from the traumatic experience of the Vietnam War; and it was important for me to identify the questions raised by the difference between those of us who, as teachers, wore black armbands on what we called a “moratorium” and those parents who hung gold stars in their windows to mark the participation of their sons and fathers in the war. It seemed to me (in fact it still seems to me) that the real engagement in moral decision-making is best rendered through a presentation of concrete situations, some of which still plague and disturb certain of my readers. All such issues, like the issue of social justice and what some call “social suffering” ought, I believe, to arouse us to “doing” philosophy rather than simply studying it. Of course I think it necessary to have some sense of the tradition, of the ways in which questions about reality and values and existence and public life have fed into the human story over the centuries. And it is necessary to have a consciousness of the context in which the diverse questions have been posed. Against such a background, even a relatively sketchy one, philosophical wondering and questioning with respect to education (and growth, development, purpose, relationship) can find articulation.


Maxine Greene at the 2008 AERA Conference, New York City


I came upon the title, Teacher as Stranger after reading an essay by the social phenomenologist, Alfred Schutz, called “The Stranger” (1964). Schutz described what it was like when someone approaches a group new to her/him with a set of “recipes” ordinarily used to make sense of things. The newcomer, the outsider finds the group she/he is approaching to be entirely unfamiliar and even questionable in its dominant ways of being; and the outsider’s adaptation to the group becomes “a continuing process of inquiry.” It is not possible to take for granted as normal what the in-group scarcely notices because it is so ordinary, so unchanging. Identifying the teacher with a stranger, I had in mind a practitioner who would notice, pay attention, ask critical questions in a way seldom done by someone so accustomed to the situation that its very familiarity obscured the details. My idea was that a teacher who first approached a class as a stranger in Schutz’s sense might remain wide-awake and critical of what surrounded her/him, more given to noticing and responding to what might be smothered by the taken-for-granted.

Increasingly interested in existentialism as I was becoming, I also began thinking that a stranger would be more inclined to take heed of the deficiencies in the situation she/he was entering and, in consequence, more inclined to take action to repair. Later, when I realized that a stranger is not usually someone who takes the initiative in transforming what exists, I rather regretted entitling the book as I had. The idea of an outsider no longer seemed appropriate; I wanted to lay stress on a person who was wide-awake and critically aware, but also someone already drawn to the community-in-the-making, whatever it was, and prepared to enter even an elementary conversation, the kind of interchanges that give a classroom pulse and life. If I were writing the book now, I undoubtedly would have placed more emphasis upon the making of community; and this, I suspect, would have brought me into a discussion of educating the young into participation in the public space. I have since become very interested in Dewey’s notion of an “articulated public” and the “eclipse” of such a public in our own time. Related to this is the ongoing existence of the public school in relation to a public space that might be, that ought to be imagined by people concerned about diversity and multiple possibilities. I realize that this touches on other writings that followed Teacher as Stranger; but I still wish I had done more with respect to imagination and, also, with respect to the significance of the several arts in moving young people to bring into play dimensions of consciousness ordinarily untouched.


“This book will have been a failure if having read it, those with different backgrounds and orientations simply adopt or appropriate the selective vision they find presented here.”

––Maxine Greene, Teacher as Stranger, 1973, p. x.

“To take a stranger’s point of view on everyday reality is to look inquiringly and wonderingly on the world in which one lives. It is like returning home from a long stay in some other place.”
––Maxine Greene, Teacher as Stranger, 1973, p. 267.


from the current Maxine Greene Readers' Guide
on-site exhibition

The use of a rather dated division of philosophy of education into analytic, experiential, and existential approaches would not work very well today; and I probably would not break my discussion up in such a fashion. As in the case of many definitions and boundaries (in and outside of the fields of education) the constructs I have used suggest a kind of objective reality in each area that, I am afraid, falsifies the different moments. I think I could have clarified the different modes of attention that marked different philosophers’ bodies of work without insisting on the familiar categories. I would, working today, use Richard Rorty, Charles Taylor, and Alastair MacIntyre as sources, as I would turn in places to Martha Nussbaum and even Hannah Arendt. Many of these would be relatively unclassifiable today. To put it in other words, the singularity of each philosopher seems to be partly lost when the reader is asked to know a thinker by the so-called “movement” to which she/he belongs. And, yes, whether or not I would today want to include philosophers thought of as “post-modern,” those considered “post-structuralist,” neo-Marxist, and the rest. Even as I write that, I am haunted by images of roads, of random destruction, of persons in quest. I am given, in fact, to think of human beings as beings marked by the desire to search, to reach beyond, and in—and by means of the reaching—create projects that enable them to choose identities. Of course, this viewing, this metaphor is intended to infuse “my” educational philosophy.


University of South Carolina Museum of Education's
2008 Greene Salon participants


University of South Carolina Museum of Education's 2012 Greene Salon participants


There is too the superfluity of my many quotations. One reviewer, pointing to the allusions made in the book, wrote that a search for my referents was like picking up hubcaps on the Indianapolis Speedway. I am fairly sure that my apparent dependence on them was due to a kind of fear and a need to hide (as a woman) behind the writings of respectable “white” men. That may be partially true, although I cannot remember deliberately selecting quotations with that in mind. I have always wanted to make the point that a quote from Camus, say, or Woolf, or Ellison would simply surge up in my mind without necessarily looking them up or deliberately hunting for support. I know I try to do that less; but I am fairly sure that the quotes and references are in part due to my feeling myself to be part (perhaps a humble part) of the ongoing conversation that helps create western culture. And, of course, they are partly occasioned by my desire to move educators of many sorts beyond technical reading to what some are calling “liberal learning” or even, succinctly, “great books.” I must immodestly say that more people have been writing to me asking for a new edition, saying that the book inspired them to teach in new ways, reminding me that I have wanted to make teachers’ lives “harder,” not easier, not more ordinary. I still have to determine (and am trying to determine) how and if the causes of the sixties (and sometimes of the Thirties) connect with the questions we must ask today. Students today seem inspired by the causes that somehow come to the surface in my book; and although I realize that the world of free markets, pluralization, and cyberspace is not the world of capitalist-communist rivalry (with all its visions of the great “Satan”), that wars now occurring differ from the Vietnamese War and the devastation of Cambodia, that is more and more difficult to think of actions to be undertaken, I still hope that the teaching project itself can become a humane cause. I hope a commitment to it will signify, at least to some, an engagement with social justice as well as wide-awakeness, and a passion for transforming the world.
Maxine Greene, Books of the Century Catalog, 2000, p. 102-105

Maxine Greene at the 2008 AERA Conference with Louise DeSalvo and Bill Ayers


William C. Ayers (1996). “Doing Philosophy: Maxine Greene and the Pedagogy of Possibility,” in Teachers and Mentors, edited by C. Kridel, et. al. (New York: Garland), pp. 117-126.

participants from the 2015
Maxine Greene Salon

Craig Kridel, editor/arrayer (2000).
Books of the Century Catalog

(Columbia, SC: Museum of Education).

Museum of Education's patio with Maxine Greene
and Septima Clark wall murals










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